Finding Water in the Desert

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or Refreshing the Wellsprings of our Lives

Today I hope to speak to everyone present in this place of worship, but I have a few persons in mind that I would like especially to speak to.

I would like to speak to the person in crisis who has lost her or his bearings and needs a fresh starting point in life.

I would like to speak to persons who have known better times with God – time when God seemed more real and nearer to you.

I would like to speak people whose joy in life has dried up.

I would like to speak to that person who feels a dark cloud hanging over his or her life and it just doesn’t seem like its worth going on.

I would like to speak to the person who feels a deep thirst and doesn’t know where to find a drink of the water everlasting.

Would I be speaking to you today?

Genesis 26:12-32
12 Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him, 13 and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.15 (Now the Philistines had stopped up and filled with earth all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us."17 So Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there.

18 Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of hisfather Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given them.19 But when Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's herders, saying, "The water is ours." So he called the well Esek,(contention) because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah.(enmity) 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, (A Broad Place) saying, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land." 23 From there he went up to Beersheba.

24 That night the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham." 25 Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

26 Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, "Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?" 28 They answered, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, 'There ought to be a sworn agreement between us'--between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD." 30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace.

32 That day Isaac's servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, "We've found water!" 33 He called it Shibah,(Oath, Well of the Oath) and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.

If you have been around the Bible much, you have heard the name Isaac, its part of the formulaic saying – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (It’s like saying A, B, C.) Repeatedly the Lord identifies himself, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…” We know a great deal about Abraham and we know equally as much about Jacob and his 12 sons, but only a few verses in Genesis tell us mostly what we know about Isaac.

The story I have read to you this morning is an ancient story, but the content of it is so familiar, it could have been in yesterday’s paper. There is a famine in the land. Isaac goes to Gerar (directly west of the Dead Sea in the desert) and asks King Abimelech of the Philistines for permission to live in his domain. Abimelech grants his request.

Isaac sows seed and they return a hundred fold and he becomes wealthy, then he becomes very wealthy and his servants and livestock multiply. Soon he had prospered so much that he poses a threat to Abimelech and his kingdom and Abimelech asks him to leave. It was this leaving that created a crisis for Isaac. (How many times have the Jews put down roots, then became prospers, and asked to leave?

Isaac departed and settled in the Valley of Gerar where years before his father had dug wells for water. The Philistines filled up with dirt the wells his father had dug– perhaps to keep people from settling in the valley. Outsiders and strangers would have been drawn to the water. Water is essential in the desert. Without water in the desert humans die from dehydration. To survive, Isaac and his group had to redig the wells and find the water. This meant removing the dirt and clearing away the debris so that the water could flow freely and serve its purposes. Isaac named the wells what his father had named them years before. But when his servants finished redigging each, Isaac renamed in line with what was happening in that time.

The first well he named Esek (contention) – because the herdsmen of Abimelech quarreled with his servants over the water.

The second, he named Sitnah (enmity) – because the Philistines were angry with his servants for claiming the water.

The third, he named Rehoboth (broad place) – because it signified freedom and a broad place where the well was located.

The fourth, he named Shibah (oath, Well of the Oath) – because there he made an oath to Abimelech.

I want to follow Isaac in the redigging and the re-naming of the wells. I don’t wish to make too much of this move on his part, but it seems to legitimate giving those wells a new name in our situation.

If we think of these wells in a metaphorical or symbolic sense, we also need to redig some wells and find the water that refreshes the weary, encourages the faint of heart, draws us near the Transcendent presence of God, and offers us the joy of living. This metaphorical use of the well is not foreign to the Bible, but it is precisely what Jesus did with the woman he met at the well. He used it as a symbol of nourishment for the soul.


Today I am using the image of redigging the wells of Abraham as a metaphor for clearing debris from our lives and rediscovering sources of power, energy and well being.

The first well that I invite you to clear up is the well of the present situation. This well encompasses what is going on in your life – the fears, dangers, hungers, failures and needs. You must always start where you are and deal with life as it is. We seemingly want to get to a better starting point rather than begin with the mess and confusion in which we find ourselves. Until we accept the reality of where we are, we are stuck.

I was to spend a month at a church in California. One of the members came to the minister for counsel and he suggested that she write me. She wrote asking what she should do, that her life was empty and without energy. I couldn’t tell her without hearing her voice, so I called.

She told me that in the last year her house had burned, she had miscarried, her mother had died, and she was over worked in her job. I think she had cause to be depleted of energy. After listening to her I recommended that she take some time and get a grasp on her life.

My recommendation was that she write an answer to the question, “What is going on in my life?” Work? Family? Outer world? Inner world? Etc. When she did, she discovered some of her illusions about what was important to her. She could make new decisions about how she would spend her time.

I spoke this week with a dear friend of mine. At the present things are going poorly in the business and in his family. Sales are down and none of the companies will make their projections. The children are estranged: the oldest son opted out of the family 25 years ago, the second daughter decided that she could not trust her father, and the second daughter has always been a rebellious spirit and at 45 she is still acting out her adolescence. The family is a mess. My friend’s wife cannot bear the thought that her family has been shredded like it is – she holds on to an image of it being different.

I say to these friends, “I know that you do not like the situation but you cannot change either of these children. You can play the martyr’s role and blame yourself and beat up on yourself but that will do no good for anyone. The sooner you accept what is, the sooner you will begin moving toward what might become.”

The debris in this first well is “illusion,” the illusion that you can change someone else. The illusion that you can make the world conform to your expectations and desires. You cannot. Do we not pray each Sunday, “Help me as you did to accept this sinful world as it is and not as I would have it.”

I invite you to sit down with paper and pencil in hand. Ask yourself, “What is going on in my life?” Look at every area of your life – work, home, family, children, parents, money, body, emotions—and write out what you see. Begin by accepting what is and that will clear the well so the water can flow!

You might also ask yourself, “What in my life gives me energy and what consumes it?”

The Second Well is that of Solitude. This well is filled with noise! The noise of the hustle and bustle of daily activity. Noise of T.V.s, airplanes, sirens, and slamming doors. Busyness, engagements, calendars, appointments, and deadlines – all these clutter our lives. These demands control us. Our lives are out of control and we need to find a way to get back in control of ourselves.

Solitude is the solution for the noise and busyness of our lives.

A few weeks ago I spoke with a surgeon whose life is out of control. He told me that he is on the go from 6:30 to 9:30 and 10:00 every day. He is driven by his work and he thinks that he should be smart enough to figure out how to stop.

I asked him what he had done to get help. He said that about 3 years ago he went to a neurologist. He said you are suffering from clinical depression. You need prosac and therapy. You should see a psychiatrist. He was shocked! Not me. But he followed through and got help and became somewhat better.

He confessed that he had no devotional life. Nothing had nurtured his faith except attending church. He had no time for anything but work.

I said that a few days at the monastery would help him. Immediately, he said that his calendar as filled until November. I asked if suddenly his right hand were paralyzed would he still operate.

Later in the conversation he later confessed that he felt horrified at the thought of a week in a monastery. It was the same horror he felt when the neurologist suggested that he see a psychiatrist for clinical depression.

I asked him, “Why are you afraid to stop?”

“Good Question,” he responded.

The next week he called to say that he had cleared his calendar for 5 days the next week. He was going on a retreat in the mountains to listen to his life and to God.

I called his wife and she said, “He has found his focus and changing his career is not what he will be doing.”

Third, I invite you to clean out the Well of Memory. That well often has a web of amnesia covering it that causes us to forget some of the important things in our lives. I will tell you what we too often forget – the people who have been major sources of influence, encouragement, and sources of strength. (I used to tell Burney – Don’t let anything happen to you because you are my Gibraltar.) We forget about times in the past when God has directed us into fruitful places. And, we forget about those moments of illumination and insight when God seemed so near and real to us.

Clean out the cobwebs of amnesia so that you can remember!

The psalmist under stood that. Listen to him.

My tears have been my food day and night,

while people say to me continually,

"Where is your God?"

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng, and

led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Ps 42:3-6)

I spoke with a friend of mine this week who was lower than a snake’s belly. He was having a hard time looking up and seeing daylight. I urged him to recall times when things were different, whey they were better.

“Yes,” he said, “too easily we forget.”

The fourth Well to be redug is the well of availability. This well gets filled up with our own plans and dreams and hopes without consideration of God. I invite you to clean out the self-centered portions of your life and ask God what he wills for you.

One of those times when I went to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit to find my way, I heard very little. I had spent 3 days in prayer and mediation but noting had happened. Just before leaving I heard him say, “You are a servant of the Lord in waiting.” You may find yourself there. Waiting for your call. Waiting for new direction in your life. Waiting for a drink that sets you free.

As we clean out the debris of our illusions, the debris of our noisy lives, the debris of our amnesia, I believe that we can posture ourselves to wait patiently for the Lord.

As you depart this morning, take a cup of water from the well. Drink and remember that he is the Water of Life. Take the cup home as a reminder all week. And, use the Tools for Redigging the Wells on the sheet in your bulletin.

Worshiper’s Sermon Guide

Genesis 26:12-20

Refreshing the Wellsprings of our Lives

The sermon today focuses on the renewal of our lives. It is for people who are weary with work, bored with the sameness of life, and yearning for something more in their relationship with God. Such a time came to Isaac when the Philistine King, Abimelech, drove him away from his successes and sources of wealth.

In his search for new life in the wilderness, he discovered the old wells dug by his father, Abraham, but the Philistines had filled them in. Both for his own survival and his success, he had to re-dig the wells.

The wells are symbols of sources for the renewing and sustaining of our lives. The names of these wells for us are:

Situation – where we are in our lives.

Solitude – where we come home to ourselves.

Memory – at which we recollect better times.

Availability – Being ready for God’s call.

Tools for Redigging the Wells

The Situation Well. Answer these questions honestly. You will derive greater benefit if you write your answers. Where am I in my life? What is going on in my work? My family? My community? With me as a parent? In my body? What are the yearnings I feel in my soul?

The Well of Solitude. Take time for yourself. Set aside a day for reflection in which you listen to your life. If you don’t have a day, take one hour to be still and let your life settle. Fast from television for a day or several days. Spend the time being quiet.

The Well of Memory. In your solitude recall three persons who have been significant in your life. Give thanks to God for them. Recall three things that you have done with your life that you feel good about. Give God praise for them. Recall three times that God meaningfully touched or directed your life.

The Well of Availability. Visualize or think of ways that you may be available to God in the situation of your life. Review your thoughts at the “Situation Well.”

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